NASA People

Center Snapshot: Mike Bibbo
05.26.09
Mike Bibbo. Image above: Mike Bibbo enjoys the creativity offered by the images he sees in a camera's viewfinder but is finding that video editing for NASA 360 also is rewarding. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

By: Jim Hodges

Mike Bibbo enjoys movies, but you probably couldn't prove that by talking to wife Jennifer Pulley.

"I can't go to a film and just watch it," Bibbo said. "I'll ask her, 'How did they do that? What kind of camera did they use?'

"We'll be in a movie watching, and I'll lean over and say something like, 'I bet they used a 50 millimeter lens on that one.' And she'll say, 'can't you just enjoy the movie?' "

Well, no. Not since he left Bennington College with a degree in architecture and sculpture and showed up at the New School in New York for graduate studies in new media and film. And not since a series of commercial, syndicated and public television productions led to a job with the National Institute of Aerospace, for which Bibbo and partner Kevin Krigsvold shoot NASA 360.

The show, which is in its second season and has become an Internet and NASA TV hit, has led to two Emmy award nominations, a Telly award and an ever-lengthening list of other honors. And it led to Bibbo's taking the third-place award in NASA's Videographer of the Year competition.

That's a long way from Bibbo's father asking him how he could abandon architecture and expect to support himself with a camera.

That was just after Bibbo was in New York – not far from where he grew up in New Jersey – and latched on to a short gig as a technical assistant on a video of a backup guy to singer Peter Gabriel.

"I knew then that I wanted to be in the industry," Bibbo said.

It's an ever-changing business that has taken him from New York to a home in Norfolk, with a job at NASA Langley. Some of that was Pulley's doing. She was in New York and wanted a teaching job, then learned that she had a better chance of finding one in Hampton Roads.

Being a teacher made her a natural to appear on a children's show shot by Bibbo.

That changing industry still has Bibbo looking through a camera's viewfinder for NASA 360, but it also has him looking more toward that camera's contribution to the finished product.

"To me now, it's more fun editing," said Bibbo. "Shooting is by yourself, but editing is a more collaborative effort."

Once the creative part of video making for Bibbo was somewhat limited to the camera. Now, with computer editing, his creative bent is satisfied through weaving a collection of assets – including video, sound and graphics -- into a story. And, after all, he said, "it's all about telling a story."

That story comes when about three hours of video is reduced to approximately 24 ½ minutes of show, and so "when I'm shooting, I'm already editing in my mind," he said. That limits surprises, and it also limits wishing for a different shot when all of the equipment is packed up and on its way back to Langley.

But even then, though, what he sees through a camera's viewfinder is not always what you get when you watch NASA 360.

"We have multiple digital tools to tell the story," Bibbo said. "We can change color, add light, make the talent look better. … A guy told me that now the job of the guy with the camera is to make sure that everything is in focus and provide good sound."

The rest can be fixed, and for him the fixing is a great part of the fun.

When he's off the job, he's not really off the job. A recent vacation at Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, showed that. "I took video and probably over-produced it," Bibbo admitted.

Overproduced?

Aren't all vacation videos shown with sound and music?

"All he needed was two breaks (for commercials) and it could be on television," Krigsvold said, laughing.

The hard part about NASA 360 for Bibbo is also one of the more appealing aspects of the job. He has captured video in California, Hawaii, Canada, Florida and elsewhere in the U.S., and Pulley has performed her co-host role in many of the shots.

"People say, 'you get to go to all of these great places,' " Bibbo said, "and I tell them, 'yeah, it's great.' "

But that also means that the job separates them from daughters Sophia, 7, and Julia, 3, which is difficult.

Add softball, golf and auto racing as avocations, and life can run over, particularly when Bibbo has a perfectionist streak that can have him tinkering with video editing as long as he is allowed.

"If we didn't have deadlines …" he says.

… He wouldn't get to the movies occasionally to drive his wife crazy.